Addiction, Society & UX Designers

Social media is creating a society that confuses ‘truth and popularity’
– Chamath Palihapitiya

There was a discussion on CNBC with Chamath Palihapitiya on his views about the pervasiveness of social media. I think as a society there is a need to be aware of how we are being exploited to our own natural tendencies in human beings to get and want feedback. As UX Designers, we may be perfecting user performing habits but are we doing something that could be right – yet wrong for our society?

Facebook can be said to be in the leading edge of social media. It started with a smart and simple form of interaction – the “poke”. It’s a clever play of making you curious who poked you, and why. It’s also a form of distraction disguised as a friendly gesture. It could be said, this made Facebook unique and appealing to the younger generation, hence it’s growth. 

Now a few years down the line, Facebook ads are easily targeted to you, notifications that seems pointless (like Friend Suggestions) pops up. We have developed a habit of scrolling and liking – every now and then. We reasoned that it was to – see how the family/friends are doing or work-related reasons but all we did was to fill our time and attention away.

As UX Designers, are we conditioning people in such a way that distraction is a norm?

And maybe I’m getting ahead on myself, but are we seeing two types of UX Designers? The ones that uses persuasive techniques cloaked in a distractive habit-performing action? Or one that is conscious of how destructive distractive habit-performing actions are?

I encourage you to read the discussion on how Social Media is Ripping Society Apart. We as UX Designers should pay attention to how society is impacted on technology and what’s driving users. It seems being ‘boring’ is not cool – but being ‘distracting’ is. How should we tell stakeholders/clients if confronted with such a situation? Should we just a be tool to erode the fabric of our society?

I’ll end my thoughts by sharing a piece of Chamath Palihapitiya’s words.

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he said, referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

If you’re interested to read how Facebook reacted, here’s Mark Zuckerberg’s response.

Further Readings:

Feel free to share your thoughts, and as always thanks for reading.

[Update 19 Jan: In the past few days, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has made an announcement on changing it’s Newsfeed feature. He admits that there should be less advertising control and plans to focus on creating more meaningful interactions between close friends and family.]


Tracey Wong

Digital Product Designer based in Kuala Lumpur.

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